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It's OK to crank up the music, Florida Supreme Court rules

By Michael Peltier

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - Motorist Richard Catalano's five-year quest to crank up Justin Timberlake tunes on his way to work won the blessing of the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday.

In a unanimous ruling, the state's highest court affirmed a pair of lower-court opinions that a 2007 state law prohibiting loud music while driving violated the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of expression.

Catalano received a $73 ticket in 2007 for violating the newly enacted law that prohibited motorists from playing music that is "plainly audible" 25 feet away. Motorists traveling by hospitals, schools and churches were subjected to even stricter standards.

Catalano, a Clearwater lawyer, challenged the law as subjective, arguing that determining whether music was too loud was in the ears of the beholder.

Further, the law provides listeners with fewer protections than drivers of vehicles emitting political or commercial speech, who have more explicit protections under the U.S. Constitution.

Calling the law overly broad, Justice Jorge Labarga wrote that noncommercial speech was also protected. Though rejecting the notion that the law was too vague, Labarga said the state showed no compelling interest in muzzling audiophiles who also prefer to feel their favorite music.

"The right to play music, including amplified music, in public fora is protected under the First Amendment," Labarga wrote.

A message left with Catalano was not immediately returned Thursday.

(Editing by Jane Sutton; Editing by Will Dunham)

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